UNCASVILLE, Conn. — A key part to Siena College men’s basketball head coach Jamion Christian’s defensive philosophy is not to foul.
The Saints executed that Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena — and so did Holy Cross.
“We’re two of the best teams in the country at not fouling, so we really anticipated not a lot of fouls being called,” Christian said after Siena’s 57-45 loss in the championship game of the Air Force Reserve Basketball Hall of Fame Classic’s Springfield Bracket. “Obviously, every game has a lot of 50-50 calls that can go one way or the other.”
Consistently, the way Sunday’s officials opted to go was not to blow their whistles. Holy Cross and Siena combined for 18 total fouls, including four technicals all accrued late in the second half. The game’s first free throws were attempted with 7:40 to go by Siena redshirt senior Kevin Degnan, and the only other foul shot was taken a few minutes later by Holy Cross sophomore Jacob Grandison.
All three foul shots missed their mark.
“That’s definitely different,” Siena senior Evan Fisher said of a full Division I hoops game with no successful free throws.
“I thought it was a pretty well-reffed game,” said Holy Cross head coach Bill Carmody, a 1975 Union College graduate. “But I’ve never seen a game where only three foul shots were taken — and none were made.”
The last time Siena went an entire game without making a free throw was in a December 2000 game against Marist. The Saints went 0 of 5 in that 62-58 road loss.
Sunday’s matchup had mostly gotten away from the Saints before Degnan’s free throws. Siena opened the second half with four consecutive makes to pull ahead 32-27, but Holy Cross answered with a 14-0 run that swung the game in its favor for good.
“We did a good job contesting the first sets they ran,” Siena sophomore Manny Camper said. “We just gave up too many second-chance points.”
Siena trailed by at least seven points for the final 12:31.
“They made a good run, actually took the lead, and then we went on our streak,” said Carmody, whose team plays Tuesday at the University at Albany. “Teams go on streaks and it’s about which one is enough to win the game.”
Siena didn’t shoot the ball well enough to put together many significant runs. The Saints made 20 of 50 shots and were a dreadful 5 of 24 from 3-point territory. Christian pointed to his team’s inaccuracy from downtown and his opponent’s 9-of-25 showing from deep as the difference in the game.
“That’s 12 points,” Christian said.
Holy Cross led Siena 25-22 after a first half in which the Saints made 10 of 27 shots and 2 of 12 from 3-point territory. Fisher led the Saints with eight points in the opening 20 minutes, which included only three combined fouls called on the teams.
For the game, Fisher finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists. All were team-high marks for Fisher, who was Siena’s all-tournament selection.
For Holy Cross, Grandison had a game-high 24 points.
The game featured some tense moments late in the second half. Fisher and Grandison were each hit with a technical foul less than 30 seconds after Siena freshman Jalen Pickett and Holy Cross sophomore David Butler each received technicals.
“The game just got a little chippy. That’s part of basketball,” Fisher said. “I got out of character a little bit. But hat’s off to Holy Cross. They’re a good team.”
The Saints won Friday’s first-round game in the tournament 61-58 against Norfolk State.
Sunday’s loss left Siena at 2-2 on the season, while Holy Cross improved to 3-2. The teams meet again Dec. 22 at Holy Cross.
Next for Siena is its home opener against Lehigh, a game that comes 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“I’m pumped,” Fisher said. “Nothing like having the home opener after a tough loss. Just excited to be back in front of our fans.”
The game will mark Christian’s debut at Times Union Center.
“I’ve only been there a few times,” Christian said of his excitement for what’s ahead, “and never for a game.”
Camper 2-2 0-0 4, Pickett 3-8 0-0 8, Seymour 3-11 0-0 8, Fisher 7-14 0-0 14, Degnan 3-7 0-2 6, Bayer 1-3 0-0 3, Smithen 0-0 0-0 0, Huerter 0-2 0-0 0, Ratliff 0-1 0-0 0, Friday 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 20-50 0-2 45.
Green 3-8 0-0 6, Grandison 9-16 0-1 24, Butler 5-11 0-0 12, Faw 2-5 0-0 5, Floyd 3-5 0-0 6, Niego 0-1 0-0 0, Benzan 2-7 0-0 4. Totals: 24-53 0-1 57.
Halftime: Holy Cross 25, Siena 22. Three-point shooting: Siena 5-24, Holy Cross 9-25. Rebounds: Siena 28 (Fisher 7), Holy Cross 29 (Butler 11). Assists: Siena 6 (Fisher 3), Holy Cross 17 (Butler, Benzan 5). Turnovers: Siena 9, Holy Cross 5. Total fouls: Siena 9, Holy Cross 9. Technicals: Pickett, Fisher, Butler, Grandison.